Untidy Waste of Life

file00019483337 Weeds BramblesWeeds. Even in the small garden they are a bother. I yank them out and throw them onto the driveway, making a mess instead of tossing them in a bucket to be composted.

Composting is a good thing, though. We take weeds and organic waste, and jumble it together to make a rich soil. This new material spread around plants gives nourishment for growth and fruitfulness.

Light and water when added to the waste pile encourages microorganisms to break down the unwanted materials. It takes both fresh green material and old, dried up matter to create good compost.

There is purposefulness to composting. It requires a willingness to carry your weeds to a place to be transformed into what gardeners often call “black gold.” It takes some work, too. Once the waste is gathered and piled in a sunny spot, and watered down to activate its decomposition, it must be turned regularly. Sure, the compost can sit unattended, but then the process is incomplete and the weeds will grow happy in the mound of compost.

Weeds and waste will always be part of the garden, even the garden of our soul in which the Lord takes his delight. He knows that. He also knows the value of weeding out and composting the waste for one’s inner garden to become more productive, more fruitful.

I find that Adoration is the place of this transformation, where the pile of debris gets flipped, where composting the black of sin—old or fresh—is  changed, slowly, into something of value, gold—the black gold of the garden that nourishes.

I wonder why I am so unsettled by the thought of composting the waste in my life.

In my heart there is forgiveness, many times for the actions of others, and almost as many for my own. I never realized my unwillingness to go beyond forgiveness—the pulling of weeds—to the cycle of finding purposefulness from the discarded waste. The waste of life that was rooted out is strewn about, untidy, unkempt, and unattended, re-rooting to grow again.

And here I thought weeding was enough.

(Image by monosodium at morguefile.com)



St. Catherine of Siena, Hear our Prayers for Sisters and Nuns

Catherine of Siena WritingAs we approach St. Catherine’s memorial, April 29, let us offer our prayers for her intercession to our Lord.

O God, you are beauty and wisdom, mystery and love. Touch the hearts of your Sisters and Nuns to flame for you and for your Church through the prayer and example of St. Catherine of Siena. We ask this grace through Jesus the Christ, our Lord. Amen

(Public domain image by artist Rutilio di Lorenzo Manetti (1571–1639), St. Catherine of Siena Writing. Prayer adapted from Magnificat, v16, n2, p339)

Eat Your Yard! Practical Gardening and Edible Landscape Solutions

shutterstock_214081222 chive flowersFresh produce from the garden is one of the simplest delights of summer. What’s not to like about plucking off and biting into a tomato, cucumber, or sugar snap peas still warm from the sun.

Many of us do not have a yard large enough for a vegetable patch or time to volunteer at a community garden, but we still want home grown foods — and maybe more than enough to share. There is a solution to growing your own veggies in a way that works with your small yard and requires only a little additional time from a busy schedule — edible landscaping.

This concept has been around for decades and is a common gardening practice in Europe where personal yard space is very limited. Here is how you can do the same thing in a manner sensitive to the landscape you already have. Substitute vegetable plants for annual flowers.

Let’s start with some basic rules:

  • Using any products for pest and disease control must be compatible with food consumption, with organic methods being preferred.
  • Locate vegetable plants so that pets cannot taint or damage them.
  • Do not plant edibles near treated lumber such as decks or retaining walls. Leaching of preservative chemicals from the lumber contaminates food.
  • Locate plants where they will receive good air movement and at least six hours of direct sunlight on their leaves.

Tomatoes are the number one home grown vegetable. Use disease resistant varieties rather than heirlooms in a mixed bed. Sweet 100’s are indeterminate (bearing fruit all season) and are excellent for trailing. Varieties bearing smaller fruit of 10 oz. or less, that are determinate (producing all at once) can be added singly throughout the landscape and usually do not need additional support. To prevent having a big empty spot in your landscape, avoid planting tomatoes in groups; they die out in late summer when blights are prominent.

A sturdy trellis that grew annual flowering vines can be used for growing edibles. Cucumbers can grow on a trellis, or allowed to cascade over a wall. Green beans that vine can also be grown on a vertical support. With green beans, plant them in succession, reseeding every two weeks, to enjoy them throughout the summer.

For dramatic leaves grow Swiss chard ‘Bright Lights’, beets, rhubarb, summer squashes, or cardoon. Lettuces and kale are also good for adding texture to the landscape. Flowering kale is pretty  but not very tasty — really, its just ornamental. Choose instead Winterbor or Redbor kale, Russian varieties such as blue-curled Vates, or heirloom Italian variety Lacinato. I personally love the flavor and diversity of eggplant in recipes. It is also very handsome in the landscape when planted with smaller textured flowers or herbs.

Herbs are wonderful for adding interest. Herbs do best in a hotter location with well drained soil, and require very little fertilization. Dill with its long stalks of delicate narrow leaves attracts pollinators when in flower. Big leaf basil is a favorite of many gardeners, so plant several of them to have enough for pesto or just a few for seasoning or adding to soups. I love cilantro but it dies out quickly so I usually replant seeds every other week. My favorite herb in the edible landscape is parsley because of its lovely curly leaves and mounded form, and because I eat a lot of tabouli! Don’t forget the chives but be sure to remove spent flowers before they go to seed.

If you do not have a yard, growing vegetables in larger containers works well. Don’t limit yourself to plopping one tomato plant in the center. Add herbs around the edges, or grow uprights in the middle and Sweet 100 tomatoes cascading over the side. An excellent book The Bountiful Container offers a lot of really good information on this type of gardening.

With a little planning and a minimal amount of additional time, your landscape can become a source for fresh healthy and possibly organic food.

(Image “Chives and Dew” by  Jitka Volfova, shutterstock .com)


Jump Start Your Garden by Direct Seeding, Practical Gardening

shutterstock_138850070 Planting SeedsMost of us want our gardens to come back to life as soon as the snow is melted. Once the soil is thawed, you may be tempted to buy plants and get them in the ground, but resist the urge. For those of us in USDA Zone 5, we can still anticipate a hard frost, or freeze, until mid-May.

Another option to consider for your garden is direct seeding cold-hardy vegetables, herbs, annuals, and perennials. Many of these plants will do much better when the air and soil temperatures are cooler. And the costs of seeds are a lot less than flats of plants if you are on a tight budget.

Make sure your garden is not too wet to be worked. If you pick up a clump of soil and squeeze it and find it remains in a tight ball, or water drips out, it is too wet to be worked, so wait awhile. The soil is best worked when the clump of soil falls slightly apart after it is squeezed. Working a garden that is too wet will compact the soil and damage roots of existing plants.

As you prepare to plant, work in compost or peat moss. Lightly fertilize the soil where you plan to grow annuals and vegetables.

Direct seeding is easy. My technique is to scratch up a patch of soil to the depth as indicated on the seed packet, and sprinkle the seeds over top. I then take a handful of the soil and sprinkle this over the seeds and water lightly. To water lightly, use a misting head or fine sprinkler on the end of your hose. A spray bottle works well for small areas. I have found that a watering can with a sprinkling head often pours too harshly and the soil washes off, exposing the seeds.

If you want to plant in rows, make a shallow straight trench to the depth indicated on the seed packet—pile the soil to one side of the trench. Space the seeds as directed, and then push the piled soil over the seeds. Again, water lightly.

For seeds planted less than an inch deep, do not pat down the soil, as some gardeners do, I prefer to let the water settle the soil against the seeds instead.

Vegetables to plant by mid-April would include potatoes, onions, and garlic. You can now seed peas, plants in the cabbage family, Swiss chard, spinach, carrots, lettuce and arugula, radishes, beets, turnips and rutabaga.

It is also the time to direct seed perennial herbs such as chives, oregano, and sage.

Though still too early to plant for Zone 5, come May you can direct seed annual herbs parsley and dill. The annuals that can be direct seeded are snap dragons, petunias, calendula (some consider this an herb), stock, sunflowers and alyssum.

When it comes to perennial seeds, there are a lot to choose from. Some of the easiest to direct seed are blanket flower, black-eyed Susan, forget-me-nots (careful, these can become weedy), lupine, columbine, tickseed, coneflowers, and candytuft.

If you are someone who uses weed-inhibiting chemicals, such as Preen, remember that this product prevents any seed from taking root—including those you want to grow. Be sure to wait until after your seedlings have become well-rooted and sturdy-stemmed to spread the weed inhibitor.

It won’t be long until you see the seedlings pushing through the soil to become part of the joy you find in the garden.

(Image: Gardening – Pea Seeds by Space Monkey Pics, at shutterstock.com.)


Gardener’s Gift Basket Give Away, Only Three Days to Drawing!

gardening gift basket prizeIts here! My newest book A Catholic Gardener’s Spiritual Almanac: Cultivating your Faith throughout the Year.

It has been a joy to create this book and work with the folks at Ave Maria Press. I A Catholic Gardner's Spiritual Almanacwould like to share that joy with you by offering a special gift. I’ve put together a basket that includes several of my favorite things for the garden—tools, books, seeds, and more! Look below…What do you think? Would you like it?

So let’s get started! Fill out the entries for a chance to win.

Then on social media use #catholicgarden and post a picture of you, kids, or friends in your favorite Catholic garden—home, parish, monastery, etc.—or future site for a prayer/liturgical garden (be sure to tag me!). I’m especially eager to see locations of future prayer gardens and to read about what you have planned.

Spring is here and its time to return to the garden, and to draw closer to the Creator through his creation! I’m looking forward to seeing what you love in the garden.

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